Self Reflective Essay

Coming into this class, I already had a background of science writing with the NeuWrite/Edu program at Geneseo and my own interest for weaving geology into my writing. I thought I had a tangential grasp at what nature writing was because of that. I mean, what’s more natural and close to the earth than the … Continue reading Self Reflective Essay

Coming into this class, I already had a background of science writing with the NeuWrite/Edu program at Geneseo and my own interest for weaving geology into my writing. I thought I had a tangential grasp at what nature writing was because of that. I mean, what’s more natural and close to the earth than the study and the telling of geologic stories? Over the course of this semester, the articles we read (from “Generation Anthropocene” to “Thirteen ways of seeing nature in LA”) helped me understand some of the aesthetics and theory behind nature writing that I hadn’t known, which is to say the articles helped me understand the difference between science writing and nature writing. They’re similar, of course. They’re probably two sides of the same coin, but the approach for nature writing is very different. It often seems to be more about the human experience with nature rather than the nature itself, and that by digesting a person’s interaction with nature we can learn more about it and our place within it.
I think, if I were to redo this project, that might be my focus, and I might have picked a different area that was within walking distance of campus. What I found difficult about the Greenway was making time to go and visit there to work on nature writing there, and that was partially due to the long winter we had in NY (maybe this course would work better in a fall semester?) and partially because I was taking five other classes this semester. I also found the depth of time that the Greenway spanned interesting, but overwhelming, and, while I’m okay with working with deep time, I wish we had dealt with it in a way that wasn’t chronological.
We did end up going semi-chronological, because that’s what made sense for the website. I think, personally, I found the website the limiting agent in the way we used it, because we were stuck between wanting to do something totally out of the box (navigation by way of map and the H5P plug-in), but we also felt like we needed to follow traditional website forms by way of navigational tabs. If I were doing this project again, I might ditch those tabs completely, and more clearly make the site pages feel like trail/historical markers.
All of this said, I am very proud of the website we put together. I’m proud that I learned to use all of these digital tools. I also really like the writing I did for the 2nd industrial revolution, and I love the cascade used in the environment tab a lot as well.
This was a really wonderful course. I wish that I had taken fewer classes alongside it, so that I could have really thrown myself into research and field trips, but even so it was great. This classed taught me so much about nature writing and digital humanities. My classmates and professors were all wonderful, and I can’t say enough good things about it other than I hope that Storied Landscapes and the work the COPLAC is doing continues into the future.

Proposal Narrative

The Genesee Valley Greenway. I haven’t managed to get out to walk the trail yet, but Natalie and I have chosen to work with the Greenway. It poses an interesting question about time and scale (the Greenway was proposed in the 1990’s, but the history of this trail starts in the 1830’s). After Tuesday’s conversation, … Continue reading Proposal Narrative

The Genesee Valley Greenway.

I haven’t managed to get out to walk the trail yet, but Natalie and I have chosen to work with the Greenway. It poses an interesting question about time and scale (the Greenway was proposed in the 1990’s, but the history of this trail starts in the 1830’s). After Tuesday’s conversation, we were interested in aligning this history with the history of the U.S. to see how we’ve progressed from a canal to a greenway.

I think Natalie and I are both interested in exploring boundaries and transitions as well. The picture from her post a few weeks back, of the back porches of houses against the Greenway, is one example of the boundaries that exist currently: built home with a yard and nature path. We’re also asking whether or not the Greenway fully “counts” as a nature path, if it only exists due to the abandonment of a man-made feature. This project offers a way for us to look into the anthropocene writing influence and see where/ if we draw lines between developed area and nature, and, if we do draw that line, what does it take to reclaim nature from the developed.

Since our project spans a large area, Natalie and I are leaning toward using a lot of maps, both modern and historical on the website to place the reader as they read about the area. In our proposal we suggested a fairly basic website layout, but we’re also considering doing something a little more whimsical. I found this artist website where the main page is drawn city and the different building link to different projects the artist has done. While we’d need to figure out the logistics of doing something like this, we both like the idea of a hyperlink Greenway map that would allow a reader to pick on locations to read about them.

In terms of tools, we’re likely going to use StoryMap and/or ArcGIS (I have experience with it from different classes) as a way to create/show our maps. We also want to record audio/video to include alongside our writing on the website.

There’s a decent amount of material in our college archive, from diaries that mention the canal to sources that give the canal/railroad/greenway history. Additionally, we’re planning to visit the Livingston historical museum, which is located close to campus. We’ve also found a railroad museum in the area that we might go to, if we’re struggling to find information on the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad. Natalie is interested in doing an oral history component for our project, and, of course, we’ll document our experience and observations on the trail.

Lastly our timeline:

Timeline:

  • March 1st- Skeleton version of website
  • March 8- Finish looking through archival information and scanning all relevant photos and letters and everything else we plan to use on site.
  • March 16- Finish TimeLine.
  • March 27- Rough draft of website
  • April 5th- Finish Map
  • April 17th- Final website up

Our timeline is still a little bare bones, since Natalie and I are still rooting through the college archives to see what threads of the story we want to pick up an write about. That said, we’re both super excited to see where this project goes!

Letchworth State Park

Letchworth park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” which almost makes it sound like a roadside attraction. Something that should be placed besides the “World’s Largest Kaleidoscope” or “World’s smallest church,” and touted as a knock of version of something better. Of course, I can’t speak to how Letchworth Park compares to … Continue reading Letchworth State Park

Letchworth park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” which almost makes it sound like a roadside attraction. Something that should be placed besides the “World’s Largest Kaleidoscope” or “World’s smallest church,” and touted as a knock of version of something better. Of course, I can’t speak to how Letchworth Park compares to the Grand Canyon, since I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. I can say, however, that, if I ever want to feel small against the scale of nature, Letchworth can make me feel that. The main outlook in the park is at the top of the canyon wall and looks across to the other ridge, where trees grow on slopes and scree gathers near the river. 

Now, I have to confess two things. The first is that this picture is nearly four years old, taken from when my first visit to the park. The second is that the day I was meant to go to the park to do my nature writing, I wasn’t feeling well enough to go, which means this post will be a collage of sorts, taking threads of different memories and times together into one experience.

There are three geologic processes that can generally be found in Western New York: glacial erosion/ deposition, rivers, and small amounts of uplift. Letchworth is the perfect combination of all three. The valley was shaped by both the Genesee River and glaciers going through it, and the canyon was formed by those things in conjunction with regional uplift. These processes are also what formed Letchworth’s greatest attracts: the waterfalls.

The Lower Falls, I see on a geology field trip. They’re not falling parallel to the river, which is weird. You except waterfalls to face you, but this one sits at a solid 45 degrees.  I’m told is due to the trending directions of the faults in the area. The faults, of course, are a better and easier way for water to travel. Of course, yes. Of course. The type of language every geologist has at the top of their head.

The middle falls are the hardest to find, as they are tucked away behind bushes. When my friend Laura and I found it last August, we found the best gap in the branches by listening to the water crash, calling us closer to it.

And lastly, the crowning jewel of Letchworth is the Upper Falls.

As I stand near these falls, recording the water tumbles, a mist rises to meet my camera lens and I. The air smells like water, which is to say is smells clean and sweet and slightly like shale. I can image the times I’ve walked these paths, how times have changed between visit.

 

My freshman year, I was part of a group of thirteen students, who were all close and did everything together. In November, we decide to visit the park to see the falls. There are a lot of group pictures, detailing the ways our lives ran into each other. Two years later, the path hold only two— a friend and me. My friend, Laura, is from England. They don’t get waterfalls where she lives, because the geologic conditions aren’t quite right for it.

When she sees this waterfall she freaks out, gushing about the way water rushes to the cliff edge and breaks along the steps of rock.

What I like about Letchworth is how it’s a place of connection, between freshman friends trying to find their people, internet friends spending their first day in person together, and, even, couples whose wedding reception tent dots the green lawn above the waterfall.

The Genesee Valley Canal/ Greenway

Archival work done on the Geneseo Valley Canal (turned railroad, then later turned hiking trail) was done through special archives sources and internet resources, mainly Flickr and Youtube. The narrative arc of this land spans nearly two hundred years, starting in the 1830’s when the idea of building a canal to Rochester from the communities … Continue reading The Genesee Valley Canal/ Greenway

Archival work done on the Geneseo Valley Canal (turned railroad, then later turned hiking trail) was done through special archives sources and internet resources, mainly Flickr and Youtube. The narrative arc of this land spans nearly two hundred years, starting in the 1830’s when the idea of building a canal to Rochester from the communities of the Genesee Valley was funded by the state. Nearly forty years later, though, the canal was essentially unused and abandoned. Different legislators in the area proposed the idea of turning the old canal into a railroad, and the idea was supported by many of the newspapers in the area.

I couldn’t find any sources about what happened between the railroad being built and now, but something obviously changed. That path of the railroad/ canal has now been changed into a 90 mile hiking trail, which partially passes Letchworth State Park. What’s really interesting I think, and I’d like to explore this more in the future, is how this place of a human-made mass transport was slowly transformed into a “natural” (or maybe just natural? minus the quotations) area. That transition begs the question of  what will happen to our highways or our airports two hundred years from now? Will those places become natural as well? Or is there no real use between defining man-made and natural, if it all will eventually be seen as natural one day?

 

College Archivist Visit

Natalie and I met with our college archivist last week to get a tour of our archives. Essentially our library’s special collection consists of three parts: the local archives, the Geneseo College Records/ Wadsworth Papers archives, and the rare books collection. While leading us around, the archivist pointed out maps, legal papers, catalogs of farmers … Continue reading College Archivist Visit

Natalie and I met with our college archivist last week to get a tour of our archives. Essentially our library’s special collection consists of three parts: the local archives, the Geneseo College Records/ Wadsworth Papers archives, and the rare books collection. While leading us around, the archivist pointed out maps, legal papers, catalogs of farmers and their properties, and so much more. The archives were almost magical in the ways the book spines were degrading, how close the shelves were to each other, and how specially these books were treated, being kept in a glass case and handled with trained hands. It was a wonderful tour, and I think I’ll get more enamored with the special archives as this class/ project processes.

We discussed 4 locations for our project: Letchworth Park, Consesus Lake, the Genesee canal, and collapsed portion of the old salt mine.

Letchworth Park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” and it is the obvious first choice for a nature writing project. It’s a beautiful valley cut through by the Genesee river, full of trees, rocks, waterfalls, and the occasional landslide. In the archives there are some letters from the man that donated the land and who the park gets it’s name from. The downside, though, is that it’s been written about and studied a lot, and it might be difficult to write a new perspective on the park.

Consesus Lake is one of the finger lakes in NY and is located closely to Geneseo. Given it’s easy access (many students will rent apartments on the lake instead of in the town, because the commute is only about 10 minutes), we’d be able to do a lot of field work with the lake. Additionally, we could take oral histories of it from professors that have lived in the area for a long time. There’s one geology professor I know, who claimed to have skated the length of the lake once when it was frozen over. The lake, like many of the lakes in New York, is home to invasive zebra mussels, which would allow us to take a “humans changing environments” approach to the piece.

The Genesee Valley Canal, which was turned into a railroad and then renovated into a road, is another option that we’re considering. All iterations of the canal follow the idea of human imposing features into nature for the sake of convenience (in this case, for transportation), but I’m interested in the ways a canal varies from a railroad and varies from a road. The library has an archive of photos for us to start the project, and I’d be interested to dig through maps to catch the progression of the Genesee Valley Canal through its different transportation phases. Plus, the expansiveness of the road, remaining canal, and locks, would be give us a variety of places to our field work, which is exciting.

The last site idea we have in mind was the collapsed section of the old salt mine. Geneseo is known for it’s Salt Mine, and that company is closely tied to the geology department, making it personally interesting to me. The American Rock Salt Company currently owns the active mine in Geneseo, but in the 1990’s another company owned a salt mine in Restoff, NY that collapsed, causing (or, as they say, due to) an earthquake. My understanding is that this collapse created a pond and flooded out the rest of the mine. The pond, I think, is still around and can be found on google images. The archivist showed us a section of papers, both legal and scientific that are about the salt mine collapse and can be used for the project.

Out of these four, my top two site locations are the Genesee Valley Canal and the collapsed salt mine. Between these too, I’m more interested in the salt mine, because I can see a conflict between different branches of scientists in it discussing its collapse, conflict between the miners and the corporation, and conflict between appreciating and abusing nature. I also think it’d be interesting to explore how the excavating of natural materials caused a pond to occur, and I’m interested to see how this pond varies from naturally occurring ponds. I have some hesitations with doing this project, though, given how it doesn’t seem very accessible for field work. I’d be happy to do the Genesee Valley Canal, though, because I like the idea of seeing how man-made structures change over time, and to see if that has an effect on the landscape. Of course, I’d be thrilled to do either project!

Introduction By Way of Place Writing

There is a place, near SUNY Genseo, called Fall Brook, that’s hidden in the woods on the side of the road. The best way to get there is to drive south of Geneseo, pull into the driveway of an alfalfa dehydrating plant, pull back onto the road (but now in the opposite direction), and then … Continue reading Introduction By Way of Place Writing

There is a place, near SUNY Genseo, called Fall Brook, that’s hidden in the woods on the side of the road. The best way to get there is to drive south of Geneseo, pull into the driveway of an alfalfa dehydrating plant, pull back onto the road (but now in the opposite direction), and then park next to the guard rail. Sometimes you’ll see another car there. More often than not that other car will have a sticker on their back window of two crossed rock hammers. It’s the unofficial (but official) symbol of a geologist. My car doesn’t have that. My car should probably have that on it.
There’s a small hill I have to climb down, though thankfully the vegetation isn’t oo thick due to the August heat, until I find a chest-high fence. There’s a break in the fence, then enough to slide through with an empty backpack on. It feels sketchy, but this land is owned by the school or something like that. I’m definitely allowed to be there.
There’s a path faint enough to follow if you already know the way. It goes through a field and then some tall trees. They may be maple or oak, but I’ve never been good at plant identification. Beyond the trees there’s a stream, which is low given the month. I’ve been here in the spring, after the snow has melted, and the stream is too full and too fast to easily cross. At this point, I prefer to go upstream, there’s more to do upstream, but if I followed it down I’d find rocks from an art installation I did the semester prior.
Participants wrote things that they wished could erode/dissolve away on a rock, and then I promised to put those rocks back into the environment and allow nature to do its work to erode the rocks and the thoughts with them. I looked around I might find fragments of a thought, written in silver sharpie, lying face up in the stream, where my friend Evan and I had chucked them.
(Question: is sharpie ink environmentally friendly?
                   Answer: I still don’t know, but technically they are “nontoxic” markers.)
          This time, though, I go upstream. The street is still audible, but the gorge starts to swallow with tall walls of black shales. Sometimes I’ll wanted over to the shales, snap them, and hold the clean break up to my nose to smell the gas in them. I have a geologist friend who wanted to set one of these shales, often called oil or anoxic shales, on fire when he first learned about them. I asked him recently if he still wants to try that. He does.
The walk upstream takes maybe twenty minutes. Leaves dapple afternoon sunlight, and occasionally I’ll stop to look for fossils. Most of the time I don’t see any, because the oil shale around here doesn’t typically have fossils in it. The majority of fossils are in the rock layer below the oil shale, which the river cuts into further upstream. I can spot the change in rock type, from black shale to a light grey shale. Around a bend, the fossil bed emerges at ankle height.
My hands scan the rocks for the bumps of trilobite exoskeletons and the disc of Cnidarian stems, trying to piece together that ancient ecosystem. I pictured the trilobites, almost beetle-like, crawling across the muddy sea floor through a field of Cnidarians that swayed like sea-lilies in the gentle waves. I see rugose corals, 2 inches long and shaped like horns, which would have faced, large end up, toward the surface. I see a branching, delicate graptolite that might have lived among the other animals, as I pull another rock out of the layer, hovering just above the water level. I try to imagine myself standing on the ancient ocean floor, but the image I had of the sea life breaks apart as I picture my red, polka-dotted, rain boots in the mix.
Eventually, I pack away my collected fossils and continue the last 10 minutes to the end of the gorge. The sides of stream get taller, steeper, and tower over me as I walk. Occasionally, bits of shale will tumble down these walls and send a chime echoing through the valley. I go from walking on the stream bed pebbles to climbing over boulders, trying not to get my foot caught in the gaps. Sometimes I’ll notice a red or pink gneiss, a metamorphic rock, that sticks out from the grey, sedimentary rocks of the stream. We don’t organically get those kind of rocks in Western New York, but glaciers brought them here from (most likely) Canadian mountains, and I’ll pick them up to bring home. My best friend teases me about it. He calls my rocks tchotchkes when I display them in my room.
Beyond these boulders is what most people come to Fall Brook to see: The waterfall. It’s very tall, perhaps 2 or 3 stories high. There’s a plunge pool beneath it where I could swim, if I remember to bring a bathing suit (I never remember to bring a bathing suit).  Behind the waterfall is a ledge of dark shale, cut out by the water hitting it over time. I sat there with my friend, looking through the waterfall at the boulders, the trees, watching the sun cast it’s angled light into the valley. I draw my knees up to my chest, enjoying the spray coming off the falling water.

I choose to write about Fall Brook Gorge as my introduction, because of its hiddenness. It’s very much a place that you’d want to call “nature,” over, say, calling your own home “nature.” It’s hidden away through the trees, and the waterfall is hidden even more so by the bends in the stream. Not everyone who knows about Fall Brook knows about the fossils, so those are almost hidden from common knowledge (though, any geologist would be happy to show them to strangers, as I did when I visited the spot last August). The fossil bed, itself, can even be hidden if the water level in the stream is high enough. The rocks from my project aren’t known to be there (aside from the handful of people I told about it), and, they’re located in the opposite direction from the path most people follow.
Why hiddenness, though? What about that interests me? I like the hiddenness of a space, because it allows for curiosity (what more do I not know? A: who actually owns the land, how SUNY Geneseo has permission to use it, the human history of the land) and the childlike pride that comes with knowing a secret about a place.
Some of these “secrets” I only know, because I know the language of geology and can contextualize what I see using that language. Macfarlane, in his article “Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet forever” discusses the importance of language in how it alters perceptions, even starting out the article with the definition and history of the word “solastalgia.” For me, Fall Brook is a special place, because of how I can read the land. I can identify the shale & be able to imagine the deep water, muddy environment that created the shale. I can picture the animals that are now fossils and how they lived in that environment. I can fast forward in my mind and picture how the glaciers that went through the Geneseo valley might have looked like. In a way, being a geologist is like have instant access to a million-year-old (& often incomplete) flipbook in your head, seeing how the land has grown and changed.
To relate this back to Macfarlane’s argument on the importance of language, I want to suggest that it’s not only language but its context that shapes our perception. See, knowing the word shale and being able to identify it doesn’t change how I see my environment. What changes my perception is the context around the shale, knowing what creates it, how it can vary, and so on. So, while I think that it’s important to have the words for Anthropocene, I think it’s even more important for individuals to identify with them and experience what they mean.
This conversation relates to another one we had in class of “how do you convince someone who doesn’t believe in climate change. I talked in class that getting someone to understand climate change and the difference between the local and the global world is the best way to change their opinion. Given my stasis as a science major, I understand why that statement was taken as the “if we present people with facts, they’ll change their opinion” argument. I wasn’t trying to say that, though, I think, since I know (through scientific studies) that giving people factual information will often just make them more steadfast in their uniformed/ factually incorrect beliefs. Instead, I meant that if you get someone to understand, not the definition of a word, but its experience, you can open up a road to changing their opinion.
I mean, why do people read fiction? It’s not to learn anything specifically. It’s not to be presented with facts or definitions. It’s to experience someone else’s life/story. It’s driven by curiosity in how other people think and live. In that way, reading (or even watching) fiction is a practice in empathy, in finding meaning out of story.   It’s through that sort of empathy that opinions change, and why writers need to team up with scientists to tackle issues of climate change, mass extinction, and other “hyperobjects” as MacFarlance phrases it.
My vignette of Fall Brook Gorge was meant to help the reader move through that space and see what I see. It’s secondary function, though, was for the reader to empathize with a scientist (classically hard people to empathize with, I know) and feel the humanness and imagination that comes with scientific knowledge, imagining crawling trilobites, collecting rocks like a kid, and wanting to go swimming under a waterfall. I think, as we continue through this course, my goal as a writer/researcher/scientist is to openly operate in the grey areas between disciplines, because I think that’s the only way to get people to care about the environment, allowing them to feel empathy for facts by coating them in a narrative.

(Horn coral fossils and the bottom half of a trilobite.)